Since Sugarland exploded onto the country music scene in 2004, the duo—vocalist Jennifer Nettles and guitarist Kristian Bush—have amassed album sales in excess of 22 million worldwide. They’ve also racked up five Number 1 singles and numerous Grammy, AMA and CMT Music Awards.
With Sugarland on hiatus, both members have been busy releasing music under their own names—with impressive results.
Nettles released the Rick Rubin-produced That Girl in January 2014. This past April, Bush released his own debut solo effort, Southern Gravity, via Streamsound.
As Nash Country Weekly put it, Southern Gravity is a highly personal, groove-oriented effort that one could rightly call the 'feel-good' album of the year." Guitar-driven tunes like “Make Another Memory” and “Trailer Hitch” are radio-friendly gems, while “Light Me Up” and “Walk Tall” allow Bush to dig a bit deeper in his songwriting.
I recently spoke with Bush about Southern Gravity, his music, gear and more. For more about Bush, be sure to visit kristianbush.com.
GUITAR WORLD: How would you describe the music on Southern Gravity?
It’s the same kind of fun you'd expect from a Sugarland record. It has that same positivity and groove. It might fit in your day in the same place where you would put a Sugarland song.
What can you tell me about the more lick-driven songs like “Make Another Memory” and “Trailer Hitch”?
One of the things I love about making music and producing records is that I really want you to identify the song even before I start singing it. When you hear the beginning of “Trailer Hitch," you already know the song. It’s a lesson I learned from bands like Van Halen. Even if you don’t hear the words, you know exactly who it is when the song goes by on your radio dial.
What was it like being on tour for the first time and not seeing Jennifer Nettles standing next to you?
In the beginning it was a bit traumatic. I remember the first show we did was in London at the O2 Arena in front of 17,000 people. I was opening for Tim McGraw and Little Big Town and no one knew what was about to happen. Even before I went on stage I remember being really nervous. But then I realized that this was a muscle I had been using for the last 10 years in arenas and stadiums across the world. All I had to do was flex it. I did and all of a sudden, I was completely comfortable.
You’re known as a guitarist but actually started out on violin. What can you tell me about that?
I was in a pilot program for the experimental Japanese Suzuki method back in the early Seventies. The idea was that if you taught your kid music when their brains first started to learn language, between the ages of 3 and 5, they would learn music as a language. So by the time I was 12, I had already been playing violin for almost 10 years. But part of the program was to transition into reading music, and I never quite made that connection.
I also was starting a new middle school and knew that me walking into class with a violin case wasn’t going to do me any favors [laughs]. So I asked my mom if there was any way I could play guitar. She said that if I could play a year in the youth symphony, she would let me play guitar. I wound up making it through the season, started playing and have never looked back.
What’s your current setup like for live performance?
As a solo act I’m focused more on singing so I don’t switch out as many instruments. Right now, I’m playing these heavy, rich Gibson Hummingbirds. For electrics, I’m playing a handmade Tele straight through a 65amp with no pedals. I love the 65amps. They’re a classic American tube amp the way it’s supposed to be.
Does Sugarland have plans to reunite anytime soon?
The record company hasn’t told us when but they’ve said to stand by. They have us for a few more records and they’re as excited about it as we are. What’s cool about this project, though, is that it doesn’t get in the way of the band. It’s a totally different experience to hear me play, but I don’t consider this to be a side project. For me, it’s a parallel project.
What’s the best bit of musical advice you’ve ever been given?
I saw an interview with Eddie Vedder where he was asked about advice. He said one of the things he’s learned about songwriting is that you should never judge yourself until you’ve written a hundred songs. When you wake up after writing the 101st song, then decide if it’s any good. Until then, don’t get in your own way. Just do it.
What excites you the most about Southern Gravity?
Part of what I’m experiencing as a new artist is the joy of reacting, and my expectations have been exceeded. I remember when the album first came out and I was rolling into Australia. I woke up on my birthday to find that the Sydney Morning Herald had given it five stars. I had to pinch myself because it was so special. Another recent review just came out, calling it one of the albums to listen to this summer. It’s an amazing feeling and I appreciate every moment.
Photo: David McClister
James Wood is a writer, musician and self-proclaimed metalhead who maintains his own website, GoJimmyGo.net. His articles and interviews are written on a variety of topics with passion and humor. You can follow him on Twitter @JimEWood.